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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Mark Batterson » Mark Batterson - Jesus: A Journey Through the Gospel of Mark

Mark Batterson - Jesus: A Journey Through the Gospel of Mark

Mark Batterson - Jesus, A Journey Through the Gospel of Mark

Many years ago, I spent a week in the Galapagos Islands with a mission team from this church. It's an archipelago of islands about 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, and, in my opinion, closest thing to the Garden of Eden left on Earth. Much of that week was spent on the open seas island hopping, and what I remember, besides getting seasick and vomiting, are these pelicans that looked like prehistoric pterodactyls circling our boat, and then dive bombing into the ocean, and coming back up with breakfast in their beaks. I remember giant iguanas, hundreds of them on the beach just a few feet from us, absolutely unintimidated by humankind. And I remember jumping into the Pacific Ocean and swimming with sea lions, which I learned later is not all together safe.

So a few weeks later, back in D.C., Lora and I took our kids to the zoo. And the National Zoo is a wonderful zoo, but I am ruined for zoos. When you've been to the Galapagos, when you've seen animals in their natural habitat, it's not the same. And so, I'm walking through the ape house, and this thought fires across my synapses. There are these 400 pound gorillas in cages on the other side of protective plexiglass, and this thought fires across my synapses: I wonder if churches do to people what zoos do to animals? I wonder if we try to tame people in the name of Christ? I wonder if we try to remove the risk and mitigate the danger? And we think we're discipling people, but all we're doing is domesticating them. I'll let that settle in for a second.

Here's the reality newsflash. Jesus didn't die to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous. The will of God is not an insurance plan. The will of God is a dangerous plan. When did we start believing that we could become like Jesus without being betrayed by Judas, mocked by Pharisees, tempted by the enemy in the wilderness, or crucified by Roman soldiers? When did we start believing that God called us to safe places to do easy things with nice people? I'm not sure how else to say this, but we can't do a series on the gospels without getting into the context of the first century. And the first century was a bloodbath. There's no way to water this down. Eleven out of the 12 apostles were martyred for their faith.

The Apostle James, as in Peter, James, and John, one-third of Jesus' inner circle, was beheaded by King Herod in A.D. 44. In A.D. 54, the Proconsul of Hierapolis tortured and crucified Philip because his wife was converted at Philip's preaching. In A.D. 67, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down. A few years later, his brother Andrew crucified on an X-shaped cross. In 69 A.D., James the Just was thrown off the pinnacle of the temple, somehow survived a 100-foot fall, and was clubbed to death by a mob. Bartholomew was skinned alive. Doubting Thomas was pierced with a pine spear, tortured with red-hot plates, and burned alive in India. Matthew was stabbed in the back in Ethiopia. Thaddeus was crucified in Asian Minor.

Simon the Zealot was crucified in Gaul in 74 A.D., and Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot, was stoned to death. That leaves John the Beloved, the only apostle to die of natural causes. But he was dropped in a cauldron of boiling oil, somehow survived his execution, was exiled to the isle of Patmos, and that's how we got the last book of the New Testament: the book of Revelation. Looking back on the first century, a second century theologian named Tertullian said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church". All of that to say this: Jesus didn't die to domesticate us. Jesus came to uncage us. He even said to his disciples, "I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves". Okay, that doesn't sound safe. In the words of Mr. Beaver speaking of Aslan, the Christ figure in "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," "Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course, he isn't safe, but he's good".

Hold that thought. It was about a year ago, I was training for a Bike Century, had some hip issues, and so Pastor Marion, Campus Pastor at NoVA ran track at UVA, coached me up a little bit, introduced me to a concept called reciprocal inhibition, or reflexive antagonism. It is a phenomenon. Whereby, muscles with opposing functions inhibit each other. Come on now give me a little flex this morning with the bicep. Let me see it, church, let me see it. You've been working it, working it. When you contract that bicep, the tricep relaxes. Now just work it. Work it the other way. Work it the other way, and the bicep... Now, Mister... That concept from physiology changed my theology. It helped me begin to understand these character traits of God that seem to be opposing.

Like, how do you reconcile the mercy of God with the justice of God? And much of this is passed our pay grade, but it's also helped me understand this kaleidoscopic personality of Jesus. We believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Well, wait, which is it? Yes. We believe he is the Son of God. We believe in a virgin birth, a sinless life, a substitutionary death on the cross and a bodily resurrection on the third day. We also believe he was fully man. He had to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic like the rest of us. Jesus, fully God, fully man, and that messes with our binary brain; does it not? But true wisdom has two sides. Truth is found in the tension of opposites, and so I would suggest that to really understand the person of Jesus, you must endure tremendous tension.

A good example, "Full of grace and truth". Grace means I will love you no matter what. Truth means I'll be honest with you no matter what. Grace and truth is the place where conviction and compassion meet, and they meet in the person of Jesus. By the way, Eugene Peterson said, "Jesus is the dictionary in which we look up the meaning of words". Simply put, Jesus is perfect theology. Can I get an amen right there? The challenge that 20 centuries of history and theology present is that we tend to create caricatures. Now I'm certainly not talking about you. It's the person next to you. I think there's a tendency to filter Jesus through our personality type. Of course, he was an ENFP. A caricature what it does is it bears resemblance to the person, but it exaggerates one feature. And what you end up with is a distortion that, I think, is incongruous to who Jesus actually is. I mean, just pop over to the National Gallery of Art, and you will see some images of Jesus.

That he looks a lot more European than Middle Eastern. Right? He's even wearing the Renaissance garb. Here's where I'm going. There is a gentle side to Jesus, and it's so endearing. The way that he treats children, that tells me a lot about people. There's a gentle side, but he also made a whip, went into the temple, threw over tables, drove out the moneychangers. So Jesus is meek and mild, no doubt about it Lamb of God, but he also had a wild side. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. About a century ago, Dorothy Sayers said, "Those who crucified Jesus did not do so because he was a bore. Quite the contrary, he was too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium". She said, "We have declawed the Lion of Judah and made him a house cat for pale priests and pious old ladies".

Over the next 15 weeks, we journey through the gospel of Mark, and here is my prayer. Oh, God, help us rediscover who Jesus really is. He said some hard things. He did some puzzling things. Let's not shy away from those. Let's lean into those. Let's dig a little deeper, and see if there isn't a revelation in the process. My hunch is over the next 15 weeks, it's going to require a little deconstructing and reconstructing. Last time I checked, 330 billion cells are replaced every single day in the human body. That represents 1% of all the cells in the human body. The significance of that is this. In fact, just jot this down. You are 1% different every day.

By the way, I think there's a right way and a wrong way to do deconstruction. I think the wrong way, in my opinion, is what happens is, and it's pretty predictable, a leader fails or falls. We experience hurt at the hands of the church, and none of that is excusable. But we don't put our faith in people. We put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So when I say deconstruction, I mean reconstructing a real relationship with Jesus, and maybe we'll let some of that other stuff fall by the wayside. And so, ready or not, here we go. I have a friend, Bob Goth, who has a unique hermeneutic. He said, "I exegete the text. Then I turn my head slightly to the left".

Okay, turn your head to the left, and just because we want to be bipartisan, turn your head to the right. I'm just having a little bit of fun. I love this idea of I want us to come at the gospel and Mark, but I want us to turn our head slightly to the left. Emily Dickinson said, "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant". You remember that? What I want to do is I want to read all of the gospel, but I want to read it slant. And so, here we go, Mark 1:1, "The beginning of the good news about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God". Mark declares good news. By the way, military, you have an acronym, BLUF, right, Bottom Line Up Front. What I love is that Mark just goes zero to 60 in one sentence. Just, "Let's get down to business". "The beginning of the good news about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God".

Now that word gospel or good news is the Greek word euaggelion. And you have to understand the etymology because I think Mark is choosing his words carefully. Mark is taking a calculated risk. With one word Mark is taking on the entire Roman Empire. "Well, what do you mean by that"? Well, backdrop it. Many years ago, archeologists found an ancient inscription that dated back to nine B.C., and it was a birthday announcement celebrating Caesar Augustus. I'm actually going to put it on the screen because I want you to pay attention to the words. "The providence which has ordered the whole of our life, has ordained the most perfect consummation".

It almost sounds like immaculate conception, doesn't it? "For human life by giving it to Augustus, by sending him as it were a savior," not just an emperor, "a savior for us, and those who come after us to create order everywhere. The birthday of a God was the beginning for the world of the euaggelion, good news, that has come to men through him". Do you see what's happening here? Mark is poking the bear. Mark is speaking truth to power. How? He's using a word that deified the Roman Emperor and gives it to Jesus. This is a coup d'etat against Caesar. Caesar Augustus, the same Caesar, who declared that a census should be taken, declared himself Pontifex Maximus High Priest of Rome, and renovated 82 Roman temples, reinstituted the practice of animal sacrifice to the Roman gods. And it was upon his death in A.D. 14, that he was declared the Son of God.

Roman coins had an inscription that literally said, "Caesar is Lord". Is it any wonder that the earliest creed of the church is three words, "Jesus is Lord"? We're one sentence into Mark's gospel, and Mark has dethroned Caesar. Now along with pronouncing good news, it's the only place in the gospel of Mark where he asserts the identity and authority of Jesus. Calls him Messiah, and calls him Son of God. In other words, Mark is an equal opportunity offender. By calling him the Son of God, it's in your face against Rome. By calling him Messiah, it's in your face to the Jews, who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. I mean, we hit the ground running in Mark's gospel. Mark isn't just throwing shade at Rome. Mark is offering an alternate reality. "Kings and queens will come and go. Governments will rise and fall. But the kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ".

Best guess, Mark's gospel written in the sixth decade of the first century, and, I think, it's important to understand two dates: The first is July 19, 64 A.D. How it started? No one knows. By the time they saw the flames, someone yelled fire, but it was too late. For six days the fire ravaged the city. For six days Rome was burning to the ground. No one who lived in Rome would forget where they were or what they were doing on that day, July 19, 64 A.D. Now there was a rumor that Nero started the fire, so he could rebuild what he wanted to. To suppress those rumors, Nero blamed the Christians; thus began the Neronian persecution.

Now I already detailed some of the things the apostles endured. For the record, Nero killed his mom, stepbrother, and two wives. So his thirst for bloodsport is no surprise. He fed Christians to the lions in Roman colosseums, crucified them on Roman crosses. He had them beheaded, like John the Baptist, executed with arrows, hung from trees, burned as human torches. Now fast forward six years, and a Roman General named Titus, future Emperor of Rome, laid siege to the city of Jerusalem on August 30, 70 A.D. They would breach the wall of Jerusalem. They would set fire to the city, and they would destroy the temple. The Jewish way of life was destroyed. All of that to say this. As we read Mark's gospel, these two days loom large. You have to read Mark's gospel in light of these two burning fires.

Mark announces good news, but he does so in the midst of fake news and bad news. Like not a lot has changed, right? In the context of fake news and bad news, we proclaim good news. And so he introduces John the Baptist. John starts preaching a baptism of repentance, and that's where we pick it up, verse nine, "At that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan". Now Jesus could have asked John to come to him, and this is where I love counterfactual history. It asks the "what if" question. You have to ask the question why did Jesus go to John? So, show you a map, Jesus grows up in Galilee. You'll see Nazareth kind of up in Galilee, and Jesus would've walked 80 miles. Has anybody ever walked 80 miles by the way? Probably a few, Appalachian Trail.

A few, like, serious hikes. I did the Inca Trail, but I don't think it was 80 miles. But it did have some elevation to it. But that's another story for another day. Eighty miles, but what I want you to notice is that he crossed the Jordan to the east side and ended up at Bethany on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. The significance of that is this. That is where some of the greatest transitions in the history of Israel took place. Remember this prophet named Elijah who parts the river and then gives his mantle to Elisha? And then what about Joshua, who leads the people of Israel into the Promised Land? Question: If you are revealing yourself as Messiah, but you don't want to come right out and say it yet, is it possible that you would just make that announcement via geography? That, "I'm the Messiah. I am the one who is coming to save and deliver the people of Israel".

And, by the way, in Hebrew, Jesus is Yeshua. Yeshua, form of Joshua, this is his namesake. In other words, all of this starts playing together. None of this is coincidence. All of this is providence. Jesus could have been baptized anywhere, but this geography begins to reveal his identity. And so Jesus, verse 11, "Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw Heaven torn open, and the Spirit descending like a dove. A voice came from Heaven. 'You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.'" Just two observations right here. If we had better hearing, if we could hear beyond 20 to 20,000 hertz, if we could hear the voice of God, I think we would hear the heavenly Father saying to us what he said to Jesus. Why? Because we are in Christ. I think, we would hear him saying, "You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased". I mean, footnote, and this might sound blasphemous.

If you're 30-years-old, but as far as we know, you haven't done any miracles yet... All you've done is maybe craft some furniture. And Dorothy Sayers said, "No crooked table legs or ill-fitted drawers ever came out of the carpenter shop in Nazareth". So I have no doubt that Jesus was really good at carpentry. But if you're the Son of God, you're underperforming a little bit, aren't you? Like there's really nothing on the resume that says anything about Jesus, that there's anything extraordinary, and what I love is that that doesn't keep the Father from saying, "I'm well pleased with you". His love is not based on your performance. There is nothing you can do to make him love you anymore or any less. He loves you perfectly, loves you unconditionally.

Now I might let Max Lucado slip something in right here, because I kind of like the way he said this. "God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way". He wants you to be just like Jesus. Can I get in amen right there? So Jesus is baptized in the Jordan. Like, I'm a little overwhelmed right now because I can't. I know I can't get all the way to where I want to go, but our goal on the weekend is not to feed you. Our goal is to create this insatiable hunger for God's word that no sermon can satisfy. Let's dig into God's word. Let's walk the Jesus trail. Let's rediscover him in his full identity and authority.

And so, he goes under the water, and he comes back up. And something so unique happens. It says that, "Heaven is torn open". It's the Greek word schizo. It's used twice. It's a literary device called Inclusio, where Mark is bracketing his gospel with two moments. One is the baptism, and the other is this moment on the cross where he breathes his last breath, gives up his Spirit, and the curtain of the temple is schizo, is torn in two from top to bottom. There's something about Jesus that creates an open Heaven. There's something about Jesus that there's this portal that Heaven invades Earth, Spirit invades flesh, and at the baptism, something starts happening that, whoo, these are not just bodies! These are temples! And so, at the baptism, there's this tearing open. Jesus is our open Heaven. And then on the cross, what a moment.

Can I just backdrop this? The curtain of the temple was 30 feet wide and 60 feet tall. It was, according to Josephus, four inches thick. It was so heavy that it took 300 priests, according to the Talmud, to hang this curtain in the temple, and it was tested by horses. Horses would pull in opposite directions if it passed the test, and it was remade every year. So this curtain is not going to tear. There's only one way it tears, and that is by a supernatural act. Whereby, Jesus says, "We already opened the Heavens. Why don't we just open the way into the Holy of Holies"? I mean, the High Priest was the only one who could go in. He could only go in once a year. And Jesus says, "Watch this. I'm going to tear it open".

Did you ever notice the detail from top to bottom? How beautiful is that? Two moments where Mark is leading us into relationship with Jesus. Whoo, catch your breath. Verse 12, "Immediately the Holy Spirit drove Jesus". It's a strong word, compelled, impelled depending on your translation, "Forced him into the wilderness". Isn't this interesting in light of how we started? Didn't come to domesticate. Came to uncage. Came to release something. John Muir said, "There's a third baptism, not just baptism by water or baptism by fire, but baptism by nature". There's something about Jesus going into the wilderness. And I better connect a couple more dots. He could have spent any length of time in the wilderness. Why 40 days? I mean, is it possible that Jesus is once again identifying himself with Moses? Do you know why the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness? It was one year for each day that the spies were in the Promise Land.

God doesn't play games. God doesn't make mistakes. These specificities in scripture, there are dots that are connecting here. Jesus is saying, "I am the Prophet Elijah. I am Joshua, the one who's going to bring you into the Promise. I am Moses, and there is a new covenant that we are establishing". Forty days in the wilderness, and I would just here compare and contrast, because, well, there were four primary sects in Judaism: Pharisees, they were religious purists; Sadducees, kind of cozied up to the Romans. They sort of mixed their biblical theology and political ideology, not that that would ever happen. There were a Essenes, who were mystics and monastics, and they would retreat to desert places. And then there were zealots who wanted to overthrow Rome.

And so, you have these different groups, but the Pharisees are kind of the primary players in the gospels, right? They are the religious purists. But let's be honest. I mean, Jesus calls them "whitewashed tombs". So what do you really think, right? They were all about pomp and circumstance. To them religion was a dog and pony show. And, it's almost like Jesus said, "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm just going to break every religious rule on the book, so that you understand it's not about religion". What do I mean? He touched lepers. You don't do this. He ate with sinners. He celebrated Samaritans. He healed on the Sabbath. None of this he did unintentionally or accidentally. He was un-caging us from religion.

Now, I don't think I've ever done this, but I decided to collect some thoughts. And I'm going to show you a chart. And please understand this is not exhaustive. It's a thin slice. But I just don't think that Jesus came to establish a religion. He came to reestablish relationship with God the Father. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes unto the Father, but by me". And so, religion is all about rules. Jesus is about relationship. Religion complicates. It's so complicated. Jesus simplifies. He takes 613 rules and regulations called the mitzvot, and he reduces them to one common denominator, isolates the variable, and says, "Why don't we do this, because this has really gotten complicated? Why don't we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love each other as we love ourselves? Why don't we do that"?

Religion is holiness by subtraction. It's all about sins of commission. Don't do this. Don't do that. And you're okay. The problem with that is this. You can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right. Goodness is not the absence of badness. Jesus came with a higher objective. Come on, let's not be more known for what we're against than what we're for. Let's be more known for what we're for than what we're against. It's holiness by addition. Religion is about being right. Jesus it's about being righteous. It's the righteousness of Christ that's given to us. Religion, information. Jesus, transformation. Religion, outside in. Jesus, inside out. Religion is all about letter of the law. Jesus is about the Spirit of the law. Religion is about washing hands like Pilate. Jesus is about washing feet. Religion is spelled do. It's all about what you can do for God.

Christianity is spelled done. It's all about what Christ has done for you on the cross. Religion is about right and wrong. It's so binary. Jesus is about grace and truth. Can we live in the tension of these things? And the religion is exclusive. Jesus is inclusive. And this is where you're saying, "Well, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Didn't he say, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. 'No one comes unto the Father, but by me?'" Yes, he did. "Well, doesn't scripture say, There's no other name under Heaven given unto men by which we must be saved"? Yeah, it says that, and I would just go on record. No one else went to a cross for me, and then rose from the dead three days later. But the same Jesus who said, "I am the way," also said, "Whosoever. Whosoever". Anybody, you don't have to get your act together. "No, you come to me. I'm going to put you back together. Whosoever will may come".

I'm breaking in a sweat. All right, let me close with this. It's a defining moment, and there's so much in chapter one. Go read it, one. Two, read it out loud. Read it out loud, and just see if reading it and hearing it, changes the way you experience it. If you want, grab some commentaries. I love Timothy Gombis, one of my favorite commentators, great commentary on Mark's gospel. I love old school Philip Yancey, "The Jesus I Never Knew". There are so many great books and commentaries. Let's study to show ourselves approved. Let's dig into the gospel. But I think we have time for one last moment, "As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee".

By the way, during his ministry, if you map my ministry, like map my run, 3,125 miles that Jesus logged on foot. And so I feel like this prayer-walk challenge. Like, in a interesting way, is like let's be a little bit more like Jesus. Let's walk and pray. Oh, man, Kosuke Koyama wrote a book "Three Mile An Hour God". It's a fascinating... When you walk, you experience things differently. "And so, Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee, sees Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. And he says, 'Come follow me.'" There it is this open invitation, "And I will make you fishers of men". And here's what it says, "Immediately". That word in Greek 40 times in Mark's gospel. Only a dozen times in the rest of the New Testament. Mark has a holy urgency. Today is the day of salvation. We believe that the most important decisions ought to be the most informed decisions.

I also know that faith is taking the first step before God reveals the second step. Some of you right now in-person, online, you feel this stirring. There's something happening inside of you. Why not here? Why not now? Why not a defining decision? Why not drop your nets? This was their identity. This was their security. This was their future. How much faith did this take to just drop their nets? And, "We're in. We're all in". I'll tell you about one moment when I was 19, and I'm done. If you had asked me at 19, I was a freshman at the University of Chicago, if I was following Jesus, I would've said, "Absolutely".

I put my faith in Christ at five. But the reality is, I think the truth is I had invited Jesus to follow me, and that's a very different thing. I wanted God to serve my purposes. I don't think I had really surrendered myself to him. And so there was a moment where I said, "Lord, Whatever, whenever, wherever". I guess that's what I'm calling us to today. Some of you, maybe for the first time, dropping those nets and saying, "I'm going to follow Jesus". It hit me all over again today. I would follow him a thousand times. I'll do it over, and over, and over again. He has changed my life.

I want to invite you to stand. I want to pray a prayer. Please hear me. Praying a prayer or professing faith, it's hard, because what you're trying to do is give words to what is actually happening in your heart. Faith is something you can't even really put into words. So the last thing I want to do today is kind of reduce this decision to follow Jesus to some kind of formula because it's not. But I also think there are moments where I need to somehow try to put into words what I'm trying to do. And so, no one else can pray this prayer for you. No one else can make this decision for you. And I want to extend an invitation in-person, online to pray this prayer with me. I'll lead us out. If you want, you can follow right behind.

I confess with my mouth. That Jesus is Lord. And I believe in my heart. That God raised him from the dead. I submit my life. To the Lordship of Christ. Time, talent, treasure. Past, present, future. Heart, soul, mind, and strength. God is my Father. Jesus is my Savior. The Holy Spirit is my helper. And Heaven is my home. In Jesus' name, amen.

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